Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Las Vegas Prospects Could Make Things Awkward in Chicago Next Season

(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)
While everyone in the NHL is excited about seeing another team added to the fold, the Las Vegas Golden Knights have a number of downstream effects on the rest of the hockey world. One of the most immediate is the development of their prospects in the AHL.

The American Hockey League is not expanding next season. That means there will be 31 NHL teams but only 30 AHL teams. As the AHL has matured even more over the last five years or so, NHL teams have sought to have more control over their AHL affiliates. Several NHL clubs have purchased an AHL team outright to completely control every aspect of their affiliate's operations.

On the other side, there are the independently owned clubs. They have different motivations (making money) than NHL teams (developing players).

First of all, Las Vegas will be sharing an AHL team with another club. Regardless of who it is, that's going to be awkward. It's reportedly the Chicago Wolves, one of the premier independently-owned clubs in the league. If true, Golden Knights prospects will be intermixed with St. Louis Blues prospects for at least the 2017-18 season.

Numerous coaches quotes across the league have indicated how much say the NHL club has in which players make it into the lineup. The answer is quite a bit. Texas Stars fans have seen this with players like Jack Campbell played inexplicably for long stretches in the 2015-16 season despite lackluster play.

So this is where it gets awkward, doubly so. Let's say St. Louis has a top goalie prospect they want to develop who needs 50 games to really get ready for a future NHL career. And let's say Las Vegas picks a third goalie in the expansion draft who is more of the 'one year away' variety than the 'insurance' variety. Who starts more games in Chicago?

The Dallas Stars were without an affiliate in 2008-09 between their time with Iowa and Texas. Prospects such as Aaron Gagnon were spread out across the league with no more than one on any team. The Golden Knights could still do something like that, as nothing has been officially announced yet.

There is something also to be said for the fact that Vegas's prospect pool may not be as deep next season as the rest of the league. The most likely conflict is in net, since there are only so many positions available there.

Of course, the true solution is adding a 31st team to the AHL. I'll editorialize about that later this summer.

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